Anchorage resident repays kindness to Haines disaster relief
December 24, 2020
Wally Smith, 83, a retired industrial arts teacher in Anchorage, donated $1,000 to local disaster relief efforts this month because he “had a kindness to repay to those who were kind to me” during a trip to Haines in 1964.
At the time, Smith was on his way to the Haines ferry terminal bound for the Lower 48 where he would attend graduate school in Colorado. While driving through Canada, a fellow teacher had mechanical problems with his pickup truck. Smith stopped to help repair the truck’s broken axle and, in the process, sustained a head injury.
“I knew that (using) an open-end wrench to tighten a nut in the close quarters of a fender was not smart, but I had to use what I had on hand,” Smith said. “The wrench slipped off the nut and hit another nut between the eyes.”
After the repair job, he continued to Haines with impaired vision. When he arrived in town, he sought a doctor.
“I found the doctor’s office above the parade grounds at Fort Seward in one of the officer’s quarters and he was on a call to Schnabel’s mill,” Smith said.
A resident took him to the nearby Alaska Indian Arts, where Carl Heinmiller was teaching carving. One of the students was John Tompkins, who happened to be assigned to the same army company as Smith’s older brother during World War II. Tompkins kept Smith awake as they waited for the doctor. When the doctor arrived, he diagnosed Smith with a concussion and another resident drove him to a hotel to rest.
“People helped me when I had a problem and it’s my turn,” Smith said. “I still don’t know if I paid the doctor up at Fort Seward. I don’t know if I paid the lady who was watching over me in the hotel. Somebody came in that night and watched over me every hour on the hour checking to make sure I was breathing and got me fed,” Smith said. “It took a village to raise this fella and I owe the villages that I’ve passed through something back.”
Smith mailed the $1,000 to Heather Lende, who gave the money to the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation.